Underneath Houston is a remarkable landmark, and now you can visit
One of the coolest attractions in Houston right now is an underground industrial relic large enough to hold 1 1/2 football fields or three Kafkaesque nightmares.
It’s called Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, and it opened to the public on May 13. It’s really big — 87,500 square feet — and it was built in the 1920s to served as the main source of the city’s drinking water, which it did for decades. Then it sprung an irreparable leak.
After the reservoir was decommissioned in 2007, the space was forgotten for a few years before being reborn as an alternative sort of space beneath the city’s recently developed Buffalo Bayou Park. The site’s developer, Buffalo Bayou Partnership, has said the spot is an eerie echo of some ancient underground ruins in Europe, especially Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern.
Visitors (ages 9 and above) pay $2 per person for half-hour, docent-led cistern tours, offered 3 to 6 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. (On Thursdays, tours are free, but you have to reserve in advance.) By noon on March 18, all tours for March 19-22 were sold out.
So what do these visitors see? A lot of concrete in low light, including 221 columns that keep the space’s 25-foot-high ceilings from caving in. But there’s often two or three inches water on the cistern’s floor, creating additional sight and sound effects. (Plans call for temporary light displays and art installations in the future.)
A headline writer at the Houston Chronicle called it a “dark, accidental beauty.”
And if you holler, promoters say, your voice will echo for 17 seconds. (Excessive noise is forbidden, however, as is eating, skating, cycling and bringing your pets.)
No Houston travel plans? Not to worry. Artist Donald Lipski has installed “Down Periscope,” an art installation that not only grants glimpses to people above ground but includes a web option.
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